February 6, 2023

Tag: plants

Cannabis clone sales making a splash in Atlantic Canada

Two cannabis growers are making a splash this spring selling cannabis clones from their own retail locations.

ECO Canadian Organic in New Brunswick and Atlantic Cultivation in Newfoundland both began selling cannabis clones in April—with ECO Canadian Organic selling them from their farmgate store and Atlantic Cultivation selling them in four retail stores they operate in St. John’s.

Both grower/retailers are selling them through a pre-order system where consumers have a specific day to pick them up, and both say the feedback from consumers has been very positive. 

Denise Hannay, the CEO of ECO Canadian Organic says the company sold around 100 clones in their first round of pre-orders and expects to easily double that in the second round. 

“It’s only growing. People prefer coming to our store even though we don’t have as many product offerings as Cannabis NB because it offers a more unique experience for consumers.” 

“And I think cannabis NB will be happy about it,” she adds, “because they’re going to see the success in selling clones and I know they’re going to want to set it up in their stores.”

Hannay says she has heard the province is also considering a pilot project that would see clones being sold in a Cannabis NB store in Moncton, although it’s still only in the preliminary stages. 

Cannabis Clones at Eco Canadian Organic’s cannabis farmgate store in New Brunswick

Eco Canadian’s farmgate store, located on the same property and their cultivation facility, has clones available for pickup every other Friday, fulfilling consumers’ pre-orders. The retail store also carries two different varieties of seeds, as well as soil and pots, and provides access to their growers for those who are looking for a little guidance for their grow. 

Eco Canadian is the first certified organic producer in New Brunswick, recently receiving their Clean Green certification, one of only a handful of producers under that certification in Canada. 

“We’re selling the same soil that we use, the regenerative living soil,” adds Hannay. “We literally just have the plants, the soil and water. And we use water directly from our own well. And that’s it. We don’t have any additives at all.”

Chris Crosbie, the founder of Atlantic Cultivation recently just sold out his first round of clones at his four retail locations in St John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Atlantic Cultivation operates several retail stores in the province, as well as its own production facility. 

The company began placing pre-orders on clones from their production facility at their four retail locations in early April, with the first pickup on April 18. Crosby says they sold about 85, and like Eco Canadian Organic, expects the next round of pre-orders to be several times that, based on consumer interest. 

“It really was just a test at first. We figured there was demand, but we didn’t know how it would go. We’re still working out some of the kinks and learning how to do this efficiently, but I think demand is big.”

An employee packs a clone for shipment at Atlantic Cultivation’s Newfoundland facility

Although he says some in the industry have suggested to him that it’s foolish to sell some of their unique genetics, Crosby says he believes selling clones will help bring in more “legacy” consumers who have maybe not yet visited a legal store. 

“I don’t see it as a threat, I see it as an opportunity to bring in people primarily in the legacy market. If there’s someone who sees we have something unique and good quality, then hopefully they’re happy to come in and try this. And we’re happy to give them that option so they can grow it themselves.”

“Just getting that consumer base in who is into growing their own, is an opportunity for the industry in general. To get the 50% of the sales out there that are still in the legacy market is one of the biggest opportunities in the industry.”

Crosby says he hopes to start expanding his sales to some of his other retail locations in the province. If the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC)—the agency that oversees cannabis in the province—allows it, he says he’s open to providing clones to other retailers as well. 

“It’s all still an experiment, we know there’s demand but there are lots of logistics to figure out. But I think this will help prove that demand.”


Cannabis clones coming to Newfoundland

Newfoundlanders who want to grow their own cannabis will soon have access to one of Canada’s first legal, over-the-counter sources of cannabis clones. 

Newfoundlanders looking to buy cannabis clones have a new legal source.

Atlantic Cultivation, a processor and cultivator in Newfoundland and Labrador that also runs seven retail locations in the province, says they are currently making cuttings at their facility for delivery to a handful of their stores in the coming weeks. 

Chris Crosbie, the company’s founder, says Atlantic Cultivation has been working with the Newfoundland Labrador Liquor Corporation’s cannabis department (NLC) on the new product category since late last year, and just received approval for two new “clone” SKUs. 

UPDATED: Atlantic Cultivation now confirms their shipment of clones will arrive on Monday, at $17 per clone.

Crosbie expects prices to be about $20 each, or $60 for four rooted clones, and while he’s making one large batch of clones for the first shipment, long term he hopes to have customers pre-order to allow him and his team to gauge demand, then paying when they pick them up at the store. 

Chris Crosbie checks out root growth on some clones at the Atlantic Cultivation facility

Three of Atlantic Cultivation’s seven stores will be the first to offer clones, all located in St. John’s, but Crosbie says he expects to get them into other locations in the province depending on demand. 

“I’m excited to be able to offer something so unique in our retail stores, and it’s a win for the community if I can get some good priced clones in peoples’ hands,” says Crosbie.

While most provinces do not allow cannabis producers to sell products directly to retailers, or only through a specialized “farmgate” model, Newfoundland Labrador does allow some producers to both operate their own retail outlets and deliver their own products directly to their stores. 

“It’s very collaborative with the NLC,” says Crosbie. “They want to see us hiring people, they want to figure out how we can get to market, and the quickest way possible. They’re really helping the industry in Newfoundland.”

“The biggest opportunity is just conversion of those legacy market consumers into the legal market… but we need to offer the right products at the right prices to keep that conversion happening,” he continues.

“I just love bringing something new to the market and creating that value for the consumer.”

Newfoundland and Labrador was the first province to allow consumers to purchase cannabis clones as early as 2018, but overall sales were very low, likely because they were only available for mail order. Other small pilot projects have occurred in other provinces on a limited, trial basis.

This will be the first time Newfoundlanders will have a legal, over-the-counter source for their own home grows. 

Update: Eco Canadian Organic, who opened New Brunswick’s second cannabis farmgate location last year has recently announced they are beginning to sell clones at their retail location, as well.


Assessing the quantity and viability of cannabis pollen for breeding programs

Treatment with STS led to a significantly higher number of pollen cells and higher viability compared to GA3.

At the end of last year, a Swiss/German group published a method that can be used to measure the quantity and viability of Cannabis pollen. This method could be useful to companies with an in-house breeding program for new strains, either for business-to-business sales or in order to cultivate these new strains themselves, and be first to market with the latest strain.

Typically, in the cannabis sector breeding is done to select for higher THC content, a certain ratio of CBD to THC, or a pleasing terpene profile (smell and taste). Many companies also farm hemp, which is the same species (Cannabis sativa), and want to select for the highest CBD content with as close to zero THC as possible, as any THC would have to be removed to below a certain level in order to meet Canadian or EU standards. This separation of the THC can be is onerous and expensive.  

Female plants can be induced to produce male flowers by treating the plant with a number of chemical solutions. The pollen from the male flowers can then be collected and used to pollinate female flowers with the desired qualities. This method also has the advantage of producing seeds that are feminized (ie. they will grow only female plants).

In this study, it was determined that a solution of silver nitrate and silver thiosulfate in water was superior in terms of the total number of pollen cells as well as the percentage of active living pollen cells. (Editor’s note: However, these methods have been ruled as not being allowed by the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, ruling they are “plant growth regulators”. This ruling is counter to the original intent of the legislation but has not been successfully challenged yet)

A relatively low concentration of these silver salts in the water will result in complete conversion from female to male flowers. The highest numbers of pollen cells were produced two weeks after the day when flowering started, but collecting over a period spanning the 8th to 24th days after the start of flowering was more convenient and works well.

These observations were the same for two different strains that they tried in the study. The number of pollen cells that die is sensitive to high temperature and low humidity, so during flowering the temperatures were kept between 21°C and 29°C, and the relative humidity was between 30 and 47%. 

The study concludes that treatment with STS led to a significantly higher number of pollen cells and higher viability compared to GA3.

The machine used to count the pollen cells and assess their viability is called an Ampha Z32 and is made in Switzerland by Amphasys AG. This analytical machine forces the pollen with water through a microfluidic chip and uses the fact that dead and living pollen cells behave differently in an electric field in order to tell them apart and separate them.

In addition to the observations on which chemicals to use and when to harvest the pollen, this technology may be useful to breeders here in Canada as the total number of flowers was not a good indication of when the highest numbers of live pollen were there. 

It will be up to individual companies to decide whether these machines and technicians will be worth the R&D investment, or whether their strains will behave similarly to those studied here and just use the same materials and methods that are recommended and hope for the best. 

Eli Stoffman


Hop latent viroid continues to infect cannabis across Canada

A disease that severely damages cannabis plants is rapidly spreading across Canada. 

The hop latent viroid (HLVd) started emerging on cannabis crops in California as early as 2017 before first being noticed in British Columbia a few years later. 

Once isolated to only a few whispers and rumours, it has now spread across Canada, infecting as many as 40% of licensed growers in the country, says Brian Coutts, a Strategy & Business Development Manager at A&L Labs. A&L is one of the few labs in Canada offering testing for the viroid.

“It’s out there more than anyone thinks,” says Coutts. “It was about two years ago now we had our first positive test, and it was in BC. Since then, it’s clear across Canada in every province.”

Coutts says by his estimate, he figures about 40% of cannabis growers in Canada currently have or have had to deal with HLVd, causing major crop losses for big and small scale growers alike. 

The viroid both weakens the plant overall, creating smaller, more brittle plants and it affects cannabinoid and terpene production.  

“Everyone is chasing that THC number, as they think that’s what the consumers want,” says Coutts, “and the number one problem with the viroid is that it can bring down those THC levels.”

“It’s out there more than anyone thinks. It was about two years ago now we had our first positive test, and it was in BC. Since then, it’s clear across Canada, in every province.”

Brian Coutts, A&L LAbs

One cannabis grower in Canada who has been vocal about his experience with the viroid is Benjamin Padovani, the owner of Treez Botanicals, a micro cultivator in Ontario. Padovani had to recently destroy all his plants, including clones in veg and flower rooms, as well as his mother plants and his entire genetic library, after discovering hop latent viroid. 

Although he’s not 100% sure how he picked it up, Padovani says he suspects it was from a batch of clones he acquired prior to licensing. Because Health Canada allows growers to bring in an unlimited amount of starting materials in the form of clones, mother plants, seeds, and tissue culture (basically anything but flowering plants) prior to licensing as part of a one-time transfer, many applicants try to gather as many genetics as possible before they get their licence. 

The value of this approach is having a robust and unique genetics library that can help a new grower stand out in the market. But with few controls in place and growers not always testing everything they bring into their facility, the risk of diseases like hop latent viroid or powdery mildew, as well as pests like thrips or aphids, can be a risk. 

Issues with powdery mildew are well known in the industry, with—some growers hiding it and others being open about their experience in managing and eliminating it, a process that entails, like with the hop latent viroid and other similar issues, destroying all infected plant matter and thoroughly cleaning the facility. 

“I had my genetics for years and never had this issue,” explains Padovani. “But because Health Canada only lets you bring in genetics the one time, I thought that I would do one last push to bring in some more before I was licensed, and I think it came in that way”

“I never bothered testing them and wasn’t careful because you never think it will happen to you. But it happened.”

“I noticed maybe two or three of my plants in one room looked like they had totally different characteristics than all the other plants of the same variety. Then in my second room, I noticed about 30% were completely showing signs of the virus. Then I noticed it was in my mothers, too.”

Padovani then looked at the plants under a microscope and saw a much lower level of trichomes than the uninfected plants, as well as much less of a smell.

Once he realized what it was, he then took samples and sent them to a lab for testing that confirmed his fears. When the results came back positive, he then quickly made the decision to just destroy all his plants and began working to clean his facility as thoroughly as possible, while also calling around to find a new supply of genetics so he can begin growing again.

“Once I did more research, I realized I was never going to get rid of it until I just torched everything. Now I’m cleaning everything in the facility and working on getting genetics from someone to start over.”

Coutts, at A&L, says the best approach to avoid bringing HLVd into their facility is making sure they buy genetics from a reputable supplier, testing everything that comes into the facility, and having working practices on site that will help prevent any infected plants that might still come through from passing anything on to other plants. 

“You can pass it on with tools, by clothing. If you’re in one room and you’re brushing by the plant with your lab coat and then go into another room and touch other plants, you’ve spread it. It’s that easy. Clean your tools, use separate tools for each room, and leave enough room in your grow rooms so plants aren’t too crowded.”

He also says purchasing genetics that started as tissue culture is an important step. 

“If you love the genetics that you’ve been growing, if they’ve been good to you and you love the THC content and the flower you’re producing, the only way to clean it up is tissue culture.”

One option for saving infected genetics is through Dr. Adel Zarei, the cannabis micropropagation lab manager at Safari Flower in Ontario. Zarei has spent the last few years developing a process using tissue culture to create new, HLVd-free plants from samples from infected plants. 

Dr. Zarei says he has had success with several clients who had the viroid and wanted to save certain cultivars. The process can take around nine months and requires a small sample of the regenerative material from either the apical meristem or a tip of new root.

Image via Safari Flower

Following detection of any infection, he says the first step is to send it to a lab to confirm the presence of the viroid. Then, if the grower wants to save any specific varieties, they should take several samples and send them to a lab like Safari, before destroying the rest of their plant material and thoroughly cleaning their facility. 

Then, once the facility is ready for new plants, always ensure you’re starting with something you can guarantee is disease-free.  

“The last pass to eliminate or control this viroid is starting with a clean plant. Having a certified, virus-free plant would be a good choice to start with. “

Zarei says he started looking at propagation methods that could create clean plants from samples with viroid about two years ago when reports of it emerging in Canada were just becoming known.

Leaning on his experience working with the viroid in hop plants more than a decade ago, he says he’d like to see the industry focus more on research into what varieties of cannabis may be more resistant to the hop latent viroid. He points to similar research showing that some varieties of hops are more resistant to the viroid than others, speculating something similar is likely possible with cannabis. 

Cannabis breeders need to take into account the strength of the plant in general, not just THC or other cannabinoids and terpenes, explains Zarei, but also specifically looking at resistance to the hop latent viroid and other known diseases that plague commercial cannabis production.

Back at Treez Botanicals, Padovani says he hopes more producers will be more willing to be open about this disease because it’s becoming so prevalent. 

“I think it’s pretty much everywhere now, but it’s just not being talked about at all,” he continues. “That’s why I’ve been very open about it. I’ve posted on my social media because I think all the big guys have it, everyone has it, but they just don’t want to say it. I believe we’ll still persevere. I’m taking aggressive action now so that it hopefully won’t affect us in the near future. I believe we’ll bounce back, but it’s not easy.”


Puregene

A Switzerland-based company is looking to work with Canadian cannabis producers to help them breed more stable, and unique varieties. 

Puregene is a genomics-based plant breeding company that has spent the last several years building a data set for cannabis that they believe will revolutionize cannabis breeding around the world. 

In 2018, Dr. Gavin George and his team began gathering data on the cannabis genome, pulling in millions of physical and chemical data points to better understand different aspects of the plant and how it expresses different qualities. 

That’s not breeding, that’s just single plant selection. 

Dr. Gavin George, Puregene

This is a breeding process already used in other agricultural crops like corn, rice, soy, and wheat. George and his team say cannabis is ripe to move into the 21st century as well. 

“When people talk about breeding in the cannabis industry, it’s generally about taking a couple of plants with some good characteristics, crossing them together, and then looking at the progeny to identify plants that contain the most desirable traits by growing them out and seeing how they perform,” explains George. 

“That was the height of technology about five thousand years ago when Mesopotamian farmers were starting to select grain. That’s not breeding, that’s just single plant selection. 

“Modern breeding is something very different,” he continues. “You have to really understand the plant at a genetic level. You need enough information so you can build statistical models around it, and then you can drive it forward using really advanced computational methods. But that all requires data, and that’s what we’ve done for the last three years.”

Although Puregene has been working with cannabis growers in other parts of the world, they are only just beginning to move into the cannabis space in Canada—a move George says is exciting given just how diverse and robust the industry currently is.   

“The Canadian producers have done almost the impossible. They’ve pulled together an enormous industry in a very short period of time. But most growers are still working with genetics selected through these old approaches to breeding. We want to change that.” 

George explains that while most growers initially want to work with Puregene to help strengthen or “clean” existing varieties they may have been growing for some time—preventing various mildews, moulds, and hermaphroditic traits that can emerge over time—the real goal is creating new, unique strains for specific traits like novel cannabinoids, while also fine-tuning for the specific growing environments of a given facility or field. 

Puregene develops partnerships with breeders, requiring a small amount of growing space within their facility to develop new varieties. They say they can deliver results in one year, all while working remotely from their base in Switzerland. 

“The first thing we do when we move into a facility is we say that we’re going to reselect your current variety so that it performs just as well as it used to, if not better. Just to get them up to speed again. 

“Then we also start a breeding program based on what their market is, and we can design that variety for them. So instead of being responsive to the market, which is the case today, they can be predictive. They can say this is what we need in two years, start working on it now, so we can integrate it into our production system.” 

Most of Puregene’s revenue stream is based on profit sharing through partnerships with producers, which George says helps ensure they are focused on delivering results quickly that not only strengthens existing strains and creates new ones, but also improves bottom lines. 

“For the last three years, we’ve just had our noses to the grindstone, generating this data so that we can breed this plant effectively. And we’re extremely excited to see what we can do to improve efficiency and quality for Canadian producers.”
Get in touch with Puregene at www.puregene.com.


University of Guelph researcher says tissue culture samples offer opportunities for the cannabis industry

Tissue culture samples offer opportunities for the cannabis industry, but more research and collaboration is needed, says a recent research paper out of the University of Guelph.

The paper, The Past, Present and Future of Cannabis sativa Tissue Culture, looks at cannabis tissue culture as a viable means for propagation and highlights some of the gaps in research that need to be addressed to further benefit the industry and growers. 

Although tissue culture is a common approach for plant propagation in many other aspects of agriculture, propagation of cannabis for any commercial scale has traditionally been through seed or cuttings taken from mother plants. While this can be a perfectly useful approach to propagation, argues the paper’s author, tissue culture offers many advantages such as a more efficient use of space and better protection against disease and pests. 

One of the challenges in fully integrating this technology into cannabis propagation is that so little is understood about the specific nutrient or input needs of different varieties of cannabis compared to other commercial crops. In order to even do the research on various varieties, researchers first have to better learn the unique nutrient or light needs of each “strain”. 

Although there is some industry practice of taking tissue culture samples, the knowledge of how to then reliably take those cultures and recreate numerous, replicable, healthy plants (micropropagation) is where much of the research is lacking. Understanding what each cultivar needs to thrive while being held as a sample for a year or more is vital to the practice being viable for the industry. 

The paper outlines several main stages of micropropagation, with the first being the selection and acquisition of a sample, the second being the multiplication of shoots and embryos, the third being growing and the last being acclimation. The paper argues that more needs to be known about individual cultivar needs for all those stages.  

This takes long term research, says Adrian S. Monthony, the lead author of the paper and a Master’sStudent and Research Assistant in Dr. Max Jone’s lab at the University of Guelph. Although there is research going on within the industry, he says he thinks there is a need for more institutional research that can take on more long term projects and look at these issues from the standpoint of the plant and the industry as a whole. 

“That’s one of the problems, because doing research on plants in stage two means you have to have plants that have been in tissue culture for a long time,” explains Monthony. “It’s been challenging because there haven’t been many labs that have had a licence to do (cannabis) tissue culture for two, three, four years, so that’s part of the whole gap in the literature.”

“I definitely think there is a lot of value in giving public research institutions funding and genetics. Genetics that we can work on and do our research with is really valuable,” he continues. “Everybody is very protective of their intellectual property but from a research standpoint it’s hard for us because our research products are a long time issue.”

Monthony also sees a need for researchers to work with those with more “cultural knowledge” of cannabis and individual cultivar needs. Referencing some work a colleague (undergrad researcher at UBC, Dr. Susan Murch) did while researching breadfruit in Samoa, who credited locals who aided in the research through their own knowledge of the plant, Monthony says he sees many parallels with cannabis.

Graphic via MDPI

“Sometimes when I see the discussion around those two sides of the cannabis world, the academic research side and then the kind of informal side, I can’t help but think we need to look at it like this. This is cultural knowledge. Just because it’s a bunch of people in their basements in North America doing it doesn’t mean it’s not cultural knowledge.”

Monthony says he thinks that in the next five years, the field will see a very rapid expansion in the knowledge base/literature surrounding Cannabis tissue culture and biotechnology.  


What’s in a strain? The Wild West of Cannabis names

Cannabis consumers are often attracted to specific, so-called “strains” of cannabis flower, with the name becoming the brand. That’s great – except that there’s a serious lack of consistency, and no regulatory framework to establish a reliable taxonomy.

“The cannabis industry is full of misinformation,” says Geoff White, the CEO and Founder of both ProgenyBio Agricultural Services Inc. and CanGenX BioTech Inc. “The terms ‘strain’, ‘indica’, and ‘sativa’ are prime examples of this. I’m from the general agricultural perspective that ‘cultivar’ or ‘variety’ are more applicable, especially since cannabis is now in the realm of agricultural commodities.”

White has a well-informed perspective, given that ProgenyBio holds the licensing, and the facility, for which CanGenX BioTech’s technologies are developed and commercialized. He notes that some in the industry feel that ‘chemovar’ would be a better term than strain; however, as a new term chemovar might not get the traction of cultivar or variety, which are already familiar terms. 

The problem isn’t trivial.  Dried flower sold as a single product variety name can sometimes have inconsistencies. Tests of product sold in Canada, conducted by Richmond, BC-headquartered Segra International Corp., have found examples of differing genotypes – and on occasion genotypes that were not near neighbours. In fact, Dr. John Brunstein, Segra’s Chief Scientific Officer, has pointed out that some products sold in Canada are “nowhere close” to identically branded varieties.

Another 2017 study in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto), and in the United States (Washington State, Oregon, and Colorado), found 2,739 cannabis items under 1,263 names. Of those, nine represented 10% of the total, with 845 used only once. It’s unlikely that all of those 845 products represented unique strains.

“I believe that strain inconsistency is a very big problem,” says White. “All other agricultural crops require registered certified starting material to ensure the consumer receives a consistent product. The cannabis industry needs to look to well established agricultural practises and associations such as the Canadian Seed Growers Association (CGSA).”

The CGSA is the only Canadian organization that monitors and certifies pedigreed seed for all agricultural crops in the country (with the exception of potatoes). Having an organization like this on side would go a long way to ensuring credibility – but the market isn’t there yet.

“Currently, licensed producers of cannabis probably don’t see any value in the services that CSGA brings to the agriculture sector,” says Michael Scheffel, Managing Director, Policy and Standards for the CSGA in Ottawa. “The CSGA provides varietal (genetic) identity and varietal purity certification services, which is very important when selling a product, process or service into a crowded marketplace with many similar offerings. It’s perhaps less important within a vertically integrated operation.”

The majority of breeding efforts in the past have been focused only on a few key traits such as yield and THC concentration. The more genetics we have available, the greater likelihood in finding the traits we are looking for. Lesser known cannabinoids, interesting terpene profiles, pest and disease resistance, as well as faster cropping times are some of the things we’re looking at in our breeding program.

Geoff White, CEO & Founder of ProgenyBio & CanGenX

Risks in inaccurate naming

The costs associated with inaccurate naming for commercial growers include brand risk, and an uneven customer experience. On the medical side, the problems are potentially more serious, given the need for accurate variety and titration to ensure correct dosage within the therapeutic window. And then, of course, there is seller liability. 

In the long run, strain inconsistencies also negatively affect medical research and breeding programs. At some point, something will have to give. The CGSA might have a role here.

“In the future, some cannabis companies may see the value of independent, third party certification of their genetics if selling to other LPs, or to the public,” says Scheffel. “We will gain a lot of experience with feminized hemp seed production over the next few years, and would be well placed to provide seed or plant varietal certification services to the cannabis sector in the future.”

For now, the market is reliant on private companies to shed light – and perhaps even to help fix – the problem. When looking at traits, there is clearly a lot of room to grow in terms of having more robust strain identification.

“The diversity of our genetic index is very important for our uses,” says White. “The majority of breeding efforts in the past have been focused only on a few key traits such as yield and THC concentration. The more genetics we have available, the greater likelihood in finding the traits we are looking for. Lesser known cannabinoids, interesting terpene profiles, pest and disease resistance, as well as faster cropping times are some of the things we’re looking at in our breeding program.”

Getting a handle on cannabis can be a more complex task than cultivating – and naming – other agricultural products like hops. As well, the number of characteristics being assessed can include a cultural response: at some point, a variety has to be accepted according to identifiable traits, even if there are some superficial differences. For that, however, we would need an authorizing body – something like a breeders’ organization – to assess which common phenotypic traits are relevant. 

We already see this in ornamental flowers, which come in many colours, and even in animal breeds – it’s been determined, for example, that a Dalmatian is still a Dalmatian, whether its spots are black or liver-coloured. That said, there is still a lot of work to do.

“Without any prior experience with this sort of seed production, it’s been a challenge to fully understand and address various risks that could impact the quality of the final product,” says Scheffel  from the CGSA. “Strict isolation requirements to prevent contaminating pollen, sanitation regimes for greenhouses, record keeping and plant breeder quality management systems are some of the ways that we plan to mitigate risks.”

A few things are certain. Given that the term strain refers to microorganisms, the market is likely on safer footing using variety or cultivar as descriptors. As well, DNA fingerprinting tests such as those used by Segra International can be reliable and robust, utilizing small data sets – they’re easily analyzed for identity and relatedness. 

This means that the era of arbitrary naming may be coming to a close.  Whether the final arbiter is the CGSA or a consortium of certified private labs, it seems all but certain that the wild west we live in now, where multiple names can be applied to one clone, may be coming to an end soon.


West River Cannabis

COMPANY:West River Cannabis
LICENCE TYPE:Nursery
APPROACH:Indoor and outdoor, clone production 
TIMELINE:~3 months (January 2020 to April 2020)
COST:$130k (including new building, licensing, etc.)
FACILITY:Indoor and outdoor, purpose-built

Mark Parker grew up in Nova Scotia working at his father’s commercial greenhouse, growing ornamentals and vegetables of all kinds. Now, he’s adding cannabis plants to the mix. 

West River Cannabis, Parker’s new cannabis nursery near the West River of Pictou in Nova Scotia, sits next to his father’s nursery, West River Greenhouses. Although just licensed in April, he hopes to soon begin selling cannabis clones to commercial growers and eventually even the consumer market. 

Licensing process

The entire licensing process took him about three months, he said, but he spent approximately two years prior to that coming up with a business plan, constructing his indoor and outdoor nursery space, and working through the application process. All in, he estimates it cost about $130,000, including the new buildings, licensing fees, equipment, land surveys, etc. 

Parker, now 42, says he first became interested in cannabis after a back injury about ten years ago that required surgery and left him with severe pain. A friend recommended he tried cannabis and he found it much more effective than the pharmaceutical medication being offered and said he found new respect for the plant. He’s been growing cannabis for himself for medical purposes for eight years now.

The West River Cannabis team outside their new nursery building

Micro licensing made it affordable

Although he had looked at the commercial licensing process as far back as 2013, he says he always felt it was too complex and expensive. But when he saw new license categories like micros and nursery, he decided it was time to finally do it. 

“It just seemed too difficult. Every time I looked at it it seemed like I couldn’t figure out a way in. Then about two years ago we started looking at it again, when they announced they were coming out with these micro operations. That’s when I knew this was something affordable to get into.”

Using a property adjacent to his father’s existing greenhouse, Parker built a 30 x 40ft2 indoor facility, as well as a fenced in area outside encompassing another 30 x 20ft2. He found some help with the licensing process where he needed it, and got down to work moving from an idea to a licence. 

“I’m hoping we could get to the point where I could sell to other garden centres around the province or around the maritimes who could then sell to their customers.”

Supplying genetics

Bringing in an “extensive catalogue of genetics” in the form of mothers and seeds, he says he’s looking forward to getting started with cuttings from his mothers and hopes to build up to handling a few thousand clones a month. In the meantime, he says he’s already been talking to other licence holders and applicants in the area, as well as to the provincial distributor about some of his hopes for the consumer market, with their approval. 

Although he thinks it’s still in the early stages, he hopes to one day either sell them through the province in some way or, ideally, with some changes to the provincial rules, to sell them from his farm or even through other commercial greenhouses like his father’s, helping to supply new and unique genetics to home growers in the area. 

“I’m hoping we could get to the point where I could sell to other garden centres around the province or around the maritimes who could then sell to their customers. So, definitely if that’s something that becomes available, we would be super interested in that.”

Process builds confidence

He is also in the process of applying for a micro cultivation licence on a nearby property. If successful, he could be supplying his clones there as well. Although Parker says the licensing process wasn’t as quick as he first thought it would be, now that he’s done one it’s given him the confidence to start working on a new one. 

He says he hopes others start to take the leap, too. 

“They make it look way harder than it is. The more you get through it, the more you start to realize, ‘If I do another of these I could really whip through it.’ You’re still going to need somebody to do the things you don’t know how to do. If you don’t know how to write SOPs, then you at least need somebody who can supply you with templates and stuff. But, really, just go for it. 

“Other than that, I would just suggest that it is going to take a couple years. Everyone told me it was going to take a couple years, I said no I can do it in six months, and … it took me a couple years.”

“It’s not like opening a Tim Hortons, where you can look at other Tim Hortons and see how they did it. You’re kind of going by the seat of your pants because there’s hardly anyone who’s done it yet.”

Challenge of being a small business

Although he did get some help from people with aspects of the regulations, he said one of the biggest challenges was finding people who were willing to work with such a small business.

“It’s not like opening a Tim Hortons, where you can look at other Tim Hortons and see how they did it. You’re kind of going by the seat of your pants because there’s hardly anyone who’s done it yet. You’ve got those big company’s doing it, but there’s no comparison to setting up a small company like this.”

Family business

One day, he says, he hopes to expand into his father’s greenhouse and operate both businesses together, ideally selling cannabis plants along with hostas and lettuce starts and hanging baskets. In business for nearly forty years now, he says they’re excited by the idea of him continuing the business and bringing in something new that he’s so passionate about.

“They’re super happy about the whole idea. They’d like somebody to take over the greenhouse and they know this will keep me interested, so they’re pretty excited about the whole thing.”

Some of the first clones he hopes to have available will be cuttings of Pineapple Express, White Widow, White Cookies, Chocolate Mint and White Rhino, and then he hopes to begin breeding seeds, as well as continuing to work towards his micro cannabis licence.

Sweet Valley Cannabis

COMPANY:Sweet Valley Cannabis
LICENSE TYPE:Standard Cultivator (seeking amendment to add a processing/sales licence)
APPROACH:Starting material for commercial growers, and consumer market
TIMELINE:~3 years + 4 months (applied: September 2017; Licensed: January 2020)
COST:n/a
FACILITY:~4,000 sq foot indoor facility

Jeff Thorne, VP of sales at Sweet Valley Cannabis in Summerland, BC has been growing cannabis in British Columbia for almost two decades. First, under Health Canada’s former medical access program and now as a licensed cultivator regulated by the Cannabis Act. 

Thorne started the company with his wife Erin Lang a few years ago as a way to transition his own facility into the commercially licensed industry. Now he wants to help other growers like him find a way to become legal and succeed in this new industry. 

Although licensed as a standard cultivator, Sweet Valley Cannabis is currently focused on operating as a nursery to supply clones and eventually seeds for both the B2B and B2C markets. 

Helping newer license holders

Their goal is to help newer license holders, especially micro cultivators, to source quality genetics so that they can dedicate their limited cultivation space to high quality flowers. Sweet Valley Cannabis also has a processing amendment application in, and intends to be able to provide the opportunity to process the end product from those cultivators so they can make their way to the retail market. 

We’ve been making selections, collecting and breeding for many years so we have a pretty unique suite of disease-resistant, high-yielding strains.

With 55,000 seeds, 33 mother plants and about 1200 varieties, they have a robust genetic bank and they are excited to begin sharing. Some of the first strains they want to focus releasing to licence holders include God Bud OG, Cookies & Cream, Lemon Sorbet, GMO, MAC, Apricot Kush, Chimp Mints, Platinum Candyland, Green Crack, Black Mamba.

“Nursery is our focus because we see it as the way we can positively impact the industry in the near term. We’ve been making selections, collecting and breeding for many years so we have a pretty unique suite of disease-resistant, high-yielding strains. Some are outdoor specific, some specific for greenhouse, some for indoors, hopefully something for just about anybody in BC.”

Deep roots in the BC cannabis community

After many years working in BC’s wine industry in the 1990s, Thorne found himself in love with all aspects of the process, from the agricultural side to taking a finished product to market. He brought this passion with him when he began helping a designated grower under the MMAR with his operation, before eventually growing himself for four different patients in the same location his current facility is in. 

Through this time, Thorne says he and his partners had an opportunity to gain knowledge and experience growing and breeding plants that worked well in their region and provided the types of end products that their patients wanted. 

Thorne says he began ‘spending more than he hopes his wife knew’ gathering cannabis seeds over a span of many years. By consistently learning and developing new traits he was able to amass a collection of thousands of seeds – through acquisition and breeding – that he was able to migrate in under his new licence. Thorn is excited to begin sharing with other growers, both commercial and home growers, and especially with micro licence holders.

They recently completed their first sale in early March 2020, says Thorne.

Licensing timeline

The 39 year old cannabis enthusiast and father of two says he originally applied to get a commercial licence under the MMPR in 2014 but eventually rescinded his application when there was no movement after about a year. He continued to operate under the MMAR and the injunction associated with it.  He then reapplied as Sweet Valley Cannabis in October 2017 and they received their licence in January 2020. 

Our focus is getting our premium, elite genetics placed in some of these larger greenhouses, as well as the growing micro community.

Challenges at the local level

With regards to licensing, although there are challenges with the federal regulations in terms of cost of adhering to as well as interpreting them, he says some of the bigger challenges were at the local level.  

“Just to get municipal permits on agricultural land was very difficult, just to get our community behind it,” he says. “Last summer we were the only cannabis start up on ag land that had community support. So we had a lot of advantages to the first movers. Our focus is getting our premium, elite genetics placed in some of these larger greenhouses, as well as the growing micro community.” 

Our model is simple

“Our model is simple. We want to support craft growers. There are so many micros in various stages of development, with limited bandwidth, they don’t want to grow mothers. We come in with our premium genetics, we offer some unique genetics others out there don’t have, and we think we can provide them some real support”

The cost of branding and packaging is significant, so to get a handful of craft producers within our periphery is the model for us: Support them, get them good genetics, help them with compliance, help them deal with distribution, so it’s a different vision that just selling clones to some of the big producers to be turned into distillate.

“The ultimate goal is to get a handful of micros the same products so that we can satisfy a larger need for branded products in the marketplace. The cost of branding and packaging is significant, so to get a handful of craft producers within our periphery is the model for us: Support them, get them good genetics, help them with compliance, help them deal with distribution, so it’s a different vision that just selling clones to some of the big producers to be turned into distillate.”

Understanding the micro realities

The real challenges for these micros, Thorne says, will be understanding the realities of the wholesale and consumer market. 

The opportunity to hold on to more of the revenue can be huge for small growers.

“The reality is right now the only things that are really selling are over 20% THC, and they need to be under $10 a gram by the time they hit the Province. So if you’re a micro (cultivator) and you’re bulk-packaging this stuff, if you’re getting anything over $3 a gram, then you are doing excellent, because by the time it gets jarred and weighed, through QA and testing, and everything else, you’re approaching that $10 mark.”

“I think in the near term, $4-5 for a high-end craft flower that tests over 20%, is hand trimmed, has amazing bag appeal – I think that’s accessible. But if it’s not of the highest caliber, then I see it long term moving towards a commodity market where the kind of products coming from the big greenhouses are getting under $1 a gram. But even at about $2.50 a gram, if you’re not able to make money, you really need to look at your cultivation practices, your genetics and your growers.”

As for the consumer market, Thorne says he sees a lot of potential for the market once the province allows either direct sales or drop shipping, with a lot of potential for the ‘farm gate’ direct sales to make micros and even businesses like his much more economically viable. 

“Personally, we’re in a high tourist area, we have thousands of tourists in our region every summer. They’re already driving by, they’re already buying cannabis from stores, we just want to sell to them, too. And for the financial ability of a micro, I think it will be an important part of them succeeding. The opportunity to hold on to more of the revenue can be huge for small growers.”

You need at least 12 months cash on hand to run your facility, and even after that you’re living crop to crop.

Prepare for financial realities

Another piece he hopes more new licence holders truly understand, is being prepared to take a while to begin making revenue to even cover operating costs, much less the initial investment. 

“You need at least 12 months cash on hand to run your facility, and even after that you’re living crop to crop,” he warns. “This is something that the legacy market guys don’t fully understand, because a lot of what they’ve done in the past has been like, a single crop pays off their whole facility, these are not the market conditions today.”

“That’s not the reality of the legal market. The tax structure can be significant, the terms with the distributors is long, other agencies besides Health Canada like the CRA, which is a piece people often forget about. A lot of these legacy growers don’t understand all this, so they need support from licence holders like ourselves. We have a QA department, we have an accountant, we have systems in place already that they can benefit from, and we have more flexibility than some of the bigger players because we’re a lean, small, privately held LP.”


Cypress Craft

COMPANY:Cypress Craft
LICENCE TYPE:Micro cultivation
APPROACH:Indoor
TIMELINE:~6 months (October 2019 to April 2020)
COST:$1.3 million
FACILITY:Grow Pods

Cypress Craft is a family run micro cannabis cultivation facility in the rural municipality of North Cypress, Manitoba, about a two hour drive west of Winnipeg.

A passion project

Located on the Oliver family’s fourth generation farm, Cypress Craft is the passion project of the company’s 24 year old Master Grower, Bryce Oliver, along with his older brother Brett Oliver, the company’s Head of Security, father Doug Oliver, the company’s Owner/RPIC, and mother Michelle Oliver. 

Cypress Craft began the construction of their site in May of 2019, forming a partnership with fellow Manitoban Delta 9 BioTech to supply them with their growing pods and to assist them with developing SOPs and with the license application to Health Canada. Once their site was complete, they formally applied in November 2019, and were licensed in early April 2020. The process to licensing, including new construction, bringing in their grow pods, etc, was approximately $1.3 million.

Micro regulations opened possibilities

Bryce Oliver has had his medical license for a few years, and was excited by the new micro cultivation regulations that were announced in 2018. He says he had been wanting a way to grow cannabis commercially at his family’s farm for some time, but originally felt the regulations were too restrictive and expensive.

Once the micro regulations came out, and I learned that Delta 9 was selling grow pods to other producers, it seemed like it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“I was a medical grower and I knew the regulations at the time would just be too much to take on,” says Bryce. “So when this came up, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. I knew there was some way for me to be involved.”

When he also learned that nearby Delta 9 Biotech was offering a kind of turnkey solution for micro cultivators to get started, he said he felt confident he could start to move forward.

“Once the micro regulations came out, and I learned that Delta 9 was selling grow pods to other producers, it seemed like it was too good an opportunity to pass up. So I reached out to them and they explained their process and were able to help us with not only getting our grow rooms, but also with our SOPs and with the regulations.”

Site design and development

During July 2019, Bryce, Brett, and Doug brought in their ten pods for flowering rooms, plus another two pods, one for storage/drying and one to act as a nursery. Brett Oliver designed the building layout along with the electrical and mechanical design, while leaning on Delta 9’s experience with site design, security, etc. Because the brothers are both certified in the trades, they were able to do much of the construction including plumbing and electrical work themselves.

Cypress Craft is the second micro cultivator to have completed Delta 9’s program, the first being Because You Cann in Alberta.

Strains & starting materials

Utilizing his own AMCPR personal medical licence, Bryce says he was able to bring in 125 different strains which he will begin cultivating and pheno hunting soon. In the meantime, he says Cypress Craft will be buying their starting material from Mother Labs in neighbouring Saskatchewan, starting with Mandarin Cookies and Ice Cream Cake varieties.

Someday down the road we’d like to get our processing licence or even become a full, standard LP, but right now we’re just going to focus on the growing part.”

Although the family farm does hope to expand size and capacity down the road, Bryce Oliver says they wanted to initially start with just the stand alone micro cultivation licence, taking the time to dial in their growing methods before looking to potentially take on processing.

Quality driven approach

Once they have crops that have passed testing and are ready for sale, they will wholesale to Delta 9 as part of their Strategic Cooperative Agreement.

I definitely think there will need to be a lot more micros and a lot more higher quality products in the marketplace. I think that will be the driver of consumer demand to bring people in from the black market.

“We didn’t want to get into the processing yet, we want to nail this down first. Someday down the road we’d like to get our processing licence or even become a full, standard LP, but right now we’re just going to focus on the growing part.”

Bryce hopes that their small scale, quality driven approach will give them an advantage in the market compared to some of the larger producers.

“I definitely think there will need to be a lot more micros and a lot more higher quality products in the marketplace. I think that will be the driver of consumer demand to bring people in from the black market.”


Mother Labs

COMPANY:Mother Labs Inc.
LICENCE TYPE:Nursery
APPROACH:Clones, tissue culture
TIMELINE:10 months
COST:~$2m+
FACILITY:Indoor

Saskatchewan’s Mother Labs has emerged thus far as one of the premier sources of starting materials for cannabis growers in Canada. 

The second cannabis nursery licensed in Canada, after BC’s InPlanta, the 6,000ft2 facility (21,000+ ft2 of operations space) has been turning out clones and teens from their genetic bank of about 150 cultivars to cannabis growers, from large scale LPs to smaller micro cultivation licence holders across Canada. The company also has a strong bioscience background, offering ancillary services such as biobanking and genetic restoration via meristematic tissue culture.

The company also has plans to soon announce a program to bring their starting materials to home medical and non medical growers in Canada

Hydroponic farm and nursery

Located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Mother Lab’s Co-Founder, Brian Bain is a horticulturalist with over a decade of cannabis cultivation experience. Brian started his first commercial indoor, hydroponic farm (Ecobain Gardens) in early 2013, growing living herbs and leafy greens year round for retail markets all across Canada. 

Then, in 2018, when Brian first saw that the new regulations for legal cannabis would include a category for a cannabis nursery licence, he says he sat down with his team and told them of his desire to transition the business over to cannabis, primarily to supply genetics and starting material for other commercial growers. 

With his team on board, he began a long process of headhunting some new members for the team and retrofitting his existing facilities to adhere to—and surpass—Health Canada’s requirements. The team completely retrofitted the interior, added and upgraded HVAC systems, upgraded software and environmental systems, added growing rooms, built out a large tissue culture lab, installed extensive security equipment and got to work.

Planning for future expansion

The whole transition was around $2 million, Bain estimates, on top of the $2 million he had already invested in his herbs and leafy greens business. He says he knows he put more into his facility than what some might have, but he has plans for expansion and wanted to build things the best way possible from the start.

“It was a big investment,” says Bain, “but being the beginning of the supply chain, it’s instrumental that we are proactive in every way. Our clients truly rely on us and we take that seriously. Another example of that would be Mother Labs having two QA personnel when Health Canada does not require any.

“It brings us accountability. At the end of the day… our QA and strict policies/procedures is what gets us deals (with growers). We are very diligent, very thorough. Clients put a lot of trust in what we do, so our company has to be on top of our game.”

“I always knew that I wanted to grow cannabis commercially, and once I saw the option for a cannabis nursery, I pivoted quickly to that.”

Pivoting to nursery licence

Bain says he initially applied in 2018 for a standard production licence under the ACMPR, although even then his goal was to operate as a cannabis nursery. But once he saw that the new regulations under the Cannabis Act would include a Cannabis Nursery licence category, he quickly pivoted. 

“With my past experience, I’ve always been in the rapid plant production business and what got me into horticulture was cannabis. So I always knew that I wanted to grow cannabis commercially, and once I saw the option for a cannabis nursery, I pivoted quickly to that.”

Focus on indoor genetics

Although their catalogue of about 150 cultivars includes both indoor and outdoor genetics, because their own operation is entirely indoor they primarily focus on indoor genetics. Focusing on genetic supply and propagation allows them to really hone in on what they know and love, Bain says, while leaving room for others to focus on things like outdoor breeding or seed production. 

“We’re not coming in trying to be someone we’re not,” he says. “The only true way to phenotype genetics for outdoor cultivation is to grow them outdoors. That’s just not the core of our business model right now. That’s something that will have to come with time and there are currently other players in the market focused on that.”

Within the 6,000ft2 footprint, the facility actually delivers around 21,000ft2 as it operates much of it’s cultivation space vertically. The bulk of this is for clone and teen production. 

Although they do hope to also service the consumer market, Mother Lab’s main focus, says Bain, is to service the B2B market. Their goal is to help them both maintain a steady supply of starting material for their flowering rooms, update clients with current/exclusive genetics as well as supplying their ancillary services.

Adding new varieties

They currently offer 20 out of their 150 selected cultivars, adding new varieties every six months or so.

“It’s a rotating catalogue to keep things fresh and exciting, we will also be releasing unique breeding projects from time to time” says Bain, “ensuring that we scale appropriately is important. The faster you grow, the more likely you are to drop the ball. Slow, steady growth is important to us, so we’re just taking it one step at a time.”

“We’re extremely passionate about what we do, and look forward to being able to service the Canadian cannabis market for many years to come.”

You can find them on Instagram @motherlabs or Twitter @motherlabs


ProgenyBio / CanGenX Biotech

COMPANY:ProgenyBio / CanGenX Biotech
LICENCE TYPE:Nursery
APPROACH:Tissue culture, seed production
TIMELINE:~5 months (June 2019 to November 2019
COST:$500,000
FACILITY:Indoor

Geoff White started ProgenyBio Agricultural Services Inc. in British Columbia in 2012 to help fill what he saw as a gap between agricultural technology services and commercial producers, offering services like molecular virus testing for vineyards and orchards.

Around 2015 White began seeing the need for similar services in the cannabis space in Canada, especially in BC. He applied for a type of research licence that at the time was called a Dealers’ Licence under the Narcotic Control Regulations of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

After receiving the Dealers’ Licence in early 2016, White says he began working with home growers under the MMAR and, later under the AMCPR to start developing technologies focused on improving the existing cannabis production practices. . 

CLEANING PLANTS

The first technology that ProgenyBio worked on was cannabis tissue culture micropropagation. This allows for the ’clean-up’ and propagation of cannabis plant material in a sterile and insect-free environment. This process allows for the propagation or transplant of virus-free, disease-free, pest-free, fully-rooted verified cannabis plants within a month in their system. 

Over several years this process also allowed ProgenyBio and their offshoot CanGenX™ BioTech Inc. to  build up an extensive library of genetics for their own research purposes and further product development. 

Once White saw the first drafts of the Cannabis Act and the direction of legislation beyond the medical cannabis regime, he began to look at how his small lab could service the broader consumer and B2B market. In the summer of 2019 he applied for a nursery licence, and was fully licensed by November 2019. 

We realized that technology is at the core foundation to be a successful business in the future in this landscape, not just the more square footage you can have, and I stayed focused on that.

LAUNCHING COMMERCIAL SEED LINES

Since then, White says the company was able to begin building partnerships with commercial growers, and start to realize a more substantial revenue generation through their newly launched commercial seed line through their independent subsidiary CanGenX™.

Despite taking a while to begin bringing in much revenue, White says he’s glad that he’s kept his company small and efficient through the pot-com boom of the past few years. 

“We’ve avoided the swarm of over capitalization and people taking on too much money from the wrong investors, and we’ve just stayed small. We realized that technology is at the core foundation to be a successful business in the future in this landscape, not just the more square footage you can have, and I stayed focused on that.”

“We’ve been able to grow and do the right thing to keep our doors open, and finally we’re starting to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And a big part of that is our erbaceous™ seed line. Getting that to the retail market has been a lot of work, but it’s now huge rewards for us.”

STOCK FOR COMMERCIAL GROWERS

CanGenX™ launched their erbaceous™ seed line in March of this year in the BC market with their K 1 L I M A N J A R O line of seeds, which have been quickly selling out every time new product arrives. They also are planning to release their  recently-harvested second and third varieties, K 2 – C H H O G O R I and D 3 N A L I, some time in May, and hope to have six different varieties available on the consumer market by the end of this year.

White says ProgenyBio is also teaming up with a few larger commercial cultivators to help grow even more seed for the consumer and business market. Although ProgenyBio has a small footprint of only about 50m2 for seed production, White says they can provide stock that commercial growers can grow in much larger approved space. 

We don’t even have the opportunity to go into other provinces yet because the appetite in BC is so great.

PROVINCIAL DEMAND

White says the process of convincing provinces that there was even a demand for seeds at the consumer level was a challenge at first, but when their first batch sold out in half a day both BC as well as other provinces began calling and asking for some. 

“BC is gobbling up all our product right now,” says White. “We don’t even have the opportunity to go into other provinces yet because the appetite in BC is so great. And that’s why we are partnering with some larger producers, so we can provide them our certified stock material and they populate their grow rooms, their greenhouses, and harvest the seed that we can then market under our brand.”

NEW STOCK FROM TISSUE CULTURE

Another advantage, he says, is that unlike other cannabis seeds traditionally available on the market, either licit or illicit, their seeds are not the traditional ‘pollen-chucking’, creating new varieties often by chance. His lab is able to start new stock from tissue culture which can be properly cleaned and identified, ensuring growers know exactly what they have and know that it’s of the highest quality. Therefore any breeding done with those genetics is also of a greater quality and degree of certainty as to the source genetics. 

“Our seeds aren’t like other people’s seeds. A lot of other groups are just throwing plants together, seeing what they get, and selling that. We make sure we have stable seed lines, they’re all virus tested, the mother and father material that we work with come out of our certified stock of tissue culture, and then we do our proper germination test. We take it very seriously.” 

POTENTIAL FOR INTERNATIONAL SEED COMPANY

Although he also wants to serve more of the B2B market, White says the industry is still too immature to see a large demand for that at this time, especially in terms of commercial growers in the area near ProgenyBio in Penticton. Because of that he hopes to continue to work towards satisfying the consumer demand first in BC, then ideally the rest of Canada and then looking at the international market. This would make them one of, if not the first fully legal international seed companies anywhere. 

“After this we’re looking at the medical market with some partners,” he says, “getting it into the hands of medical patients, because they have not been serviced well for the past few years, and then the international market as they come along, too.”

We have the first real, commercial seed brand on the market, and we feel good about the quality that we’re going to be putting out there for people. We’re trying to address the need rather than the greed.

PREPARED FOR THE LONG HAUL

After spending about $2 million over the past seven years building his company, he says he’s happy that he and his team of three others are able to see the fruits of their labour. 

“We have the first real, commercial seed brand on the market, and we feel good about the quality that we’re going to be putting out there for people. We’re trying to address the need rather than the greed. We can hold our heads high and keep moving ahead through this process.”

Despite that hope, he does say that anyone else looking to enter the space, either as a cannabis nursery or as a cultivator or processor, needs to be prepared for the long haul and be willing to learn from their mistakes.

“Be honest about disease pressures and insect pressures and your failings. It’s not always about how glorious you are when there are millions of sq feet being shut down. It’s been a struggle, honestly. There’s a lot more than just the Cannabis Regulations you need to be aware of. There’s the Seeds Act, pesticide regulations, just to name a few. Health Canada makes it hard, the CRA makes it hard, the Province makes it hard.” 

MADE IT TO THE STARTING BLOCK

“(Once licensed), you’ve just opened a whole new can of worms. You have monthly reporting, accounting for products, more than you’ve ever done before. It’s not like you’ve just made it to the finish line, you’ve actually just made it to the starting block. Applying is half the battle, but surviving as a licence holder is the other half.”


See the StratCann cannabis news article on ProgynyBio/CanGenX Biotech:
https://stratcann.com/new-cannabis-seeds-should-soon-be-available-in-stores-in-bc/

Because You Cann

COMPANY:Because You Cann
LICENCE TYPE:Micro Cultivation
APPROACH:Indoor, soilless medium
TIMELINE~10 months (April 2019 to February 2020)
COST:~$1.3-1.4 million
FACILITY:Grow Pods

Serena Donovan was born and raised on Vancouver Island but has lived with her husband, Ian, on his family’s farm in rural Alberta since 2009 where Ian has been growing crops like wheat, durham, canola and peas for almost 30 years.

When the mother of five began having painful migraines many years ago, after first being prescribed a host of medications with no relief, she eventually tried CBD and found that her headaches were reduced considerably. 

…she felt it would be a great opportunity to work with a plant she had come to love while also helping her husband to diversify their family farm.

Since that experience, Donovan has been a strong believer in the power of cannabis. When she saw new opportunities for small cannabis farms through Health Canada’s micro cannabis licenses emerge in 2018, she felt it would be a great opportunity to work with a plant she had come to love while also helping her husband to diversify their family farm.

Breaking Ground

After taking some time to read and understand the regulations, she decided to begin the long process of getting licensed to grow cannabis at a small scale in April 2019. Although her application was in before the May 2019 rule changes requiring a full facility buildout before applying, she began breaking ground and bringing in equipment. 

From start to finish-concept to licence, it took a year to get this done and that seems like a long time, but then I think to myself ‘ this only took a year’.

They renovated an old cold storage building on the family farm so that it could house the dozen “grow pods” they are using for cultivation, along with drying, trimming and storage, plus offices, as an addition to the 4,000 acres that Ian is currently farming.

The idea, the Because You Cann founder and CEO says, is to see this as just another value added crop for their family farm. 

Bringing farming indoors

“I wanted to be able to diversify the farm,” she says. “I’m a county councillor for Vulcan County and I’ve been able to attend a few of the provincial agricultural conventions and there’s been a lot of talk about diversifying crops and farming as a whole. 

As dry land farmers, we don’t have the luxury of irrigating acres so we can’t choose a crop that would respond well to a lot of water.

“As dry land farmers, we don’t have the luxury of irrigating acres so we can’t choose a crop that would respond well to a lot of water. A lot of crops just won’t work for where we are. So then I said maybe I need to look at bringing farming indoors. So I looked at microgreens and eventually arrived at cannabis. Bringing farming indoors, I can then control almost all the environmental aspects, and that appealed to the farmer business person in me.”

Developing partnerships

In February 2019, before even applying, Serena signed a supply agreement with a cannabis processor, Delta9 Bio Tech Inc. in Manitoba, to take her future harvests. Delta9 worked with her on her application, site evidence package and provided some guidance on logistics, giving her some of the confidence required to move forward in the process. Donovan purchased 12 “Grow Pods” from Delta9, the same grow pods that the LP is using on their site for cannabis activities on a large scale. 

Her partnership with Delta9 has been very supportive, says Donovan, and has given her the security of knowing that she has a purchaser for her products. 

Consultants can tell you whatever they want, but they don’t have any skin in the game.

Arrival of 300 clones

“I’m thankful for my partnership with Delta9 because they’ve been licensed for several years and I knew they needed me to succeed as much as I needed to succeed. Consultants can tell you whatever they want, but they don’t have any skin in the game. They’ve never run anything in the industry, and it doesn’t make a difference if you get licensed – they get paid either way. 

Donovan also developed a relationship with a local Alberta cannabis company to supply her starting material for her first crop. ANC Cannabis, the first micro licensed cultivator in Alberta, has begun supplying clones to BYC, they will provide approximately 1,500 clones in total, shipping 300 new clones to them every few weeks, says Donovan.

Focus on growing a family run business

This will allow Because You Cann to focus on growing cannabis in most of their space, rather than dedicating space to clones, and the physical proximity and similarity of the two locations was also a benefit. 

I don’t see another micro as competition, I see partnerships not transactions. We need to strengthen each other, not compete for the top.

“I really clicked with (ANC) because we’re a family run business and they are a small business too – just four guys who want a good partnership with others in the industry,” says Donovan. “So we were able to sit down and have some good conversations, and I’m excited to keep working with them. I don’t see another micro as competition, I see partnerships not transactions. We need to strengthen each other, not compete for the top.

“I’m excited because they’ve got some great genetics and can be my nursery, so that I don’t have to spend the time vegging in my small footprint. Then in my own small nursery room I can concentrate on phenotyping some of the genetics that I’ve brought in. So they will save me some time and space that way.”

Creating local and family jobs

Serena and her daughters. From left to right Grace, Serena and Julia.

The focus on community extends even further than their business relationships with three of Donovan’s five adult children recently returning to the farm to help. Their son is now working with Ian and their two daughters are working with Serena in the cannabis facility. 

Donovan is also happy to be creating jobs for others in her community. They currently have three full-time employees – all women – plus Serena in the cannabis facility. The local Mennonite women are knocking at her door asking for work, she says, and she hopes to be able to provide opportunities to an additional 2-5 residents soon.

“To have kids come back to rural Alberta to farm is something that is not common, so we’re very proud. The opportunity to come back and work on a family farm – I still look at my cannabis facility as a family farm – and being able to provide a well paying job for people in the community who otherwise might not find work, it’s a good feeling. So if we can hire local people without them having to drive an hour to the city, it’s huge for me.”

As for her two daughters, Donovan says they both bring their own strengths to the project, and she’s very proud to have their expertise and passion be a part of the venture, too. 

So if we can hire local people without them having to drive an hour to the city, it’s huge for me.

“My oldest is very interested in the genetics side, she can’t wait to start popping seeds and pheno hunting. My youngest is interested in the chemistry side of the plant and she can’t wait to figure out how to increase various cannabinoids. She’s going to be the one to push for expansion first because she wants to do the processing and extraction. 

“They’re both coming with different strengths and different interests, so we’re all working as a really strong team and it’s nice that we all bring something different to the table.”

Women grown cannabis

Although being 100% women-run is not her main priority, Donovan thinks this is a great opportunity for women in her community to work in a field they may not have had the chance to otherwise.

I’m focussing on being able to provide a well paying farming job to women in the community who wouldn’t have an opportunity to do this.

“I’m not saying that I’m trying to exclude men, but I am going to really try to keep it a women’s team, women empowering women. Women Grown Cannabis is what’s on my business card. Because there hasn’t been a lot of opportunity for this kind of farming in the area. I’m not focusing on only hiring women because it’s cannabis. I’m focussing on being able to provide a well paying farming job to women in the community who wouldn’t have an opportunity to do this.”

Because You Cann business card

Timeline for profitability

As for what the future looks like, she says she hopes Because You Cann will begin to be profitable in about 12-18 months, with her investments paid off and operating expenses covered, although as the market shifts this could change. BYC’s partnership with Delta9 provides some security in that prediction. 

Donovan thinks this is one of the pieces many new businesses forget about and wants anyone looking at the cannabis industry to be aware of not spending more than they can make back. Does the reward outweigh the risk? Does the risk outweigh the reward? This is a very important decision and the comfort for risk will be different for everyone. 

“Farming is hard work,” says Donovan. “Everybody wants to make money, but you need to figure out what it costs to make money. I think entrepreneurs often miss that step. One challenge for cannabis is the lack of funding. I had the ability to self fund, having outside investment scares me, as you can lose some control of your own business.”

Timeline for licencing

As for the timeline on getting licenced, while some have bemoaned the May 2019 rule changes, Donovan says she thinks they actually helped her and other micros. 

I’m actually very appreciative of Health Canada and the fact that they did change their application guidelines.

“From start to finish-concept to licence, it took a year to get this done and that seems like a long time, but then I think to myself ‘ this only took a year’. I think of how much I’ve done in a year. 

“We didn’t even break ground until April of last year. So as much as it’s been agonizing waiting, I do have to take a step back and say ‘yeah, but you really got all of this done in only a year!’ A lot of those big companies, it took some of them five years to get licensed. So, I look back and say this can go as fast or as slowly as you decide this is going to be.”

Although Because You Cann submitted their application in April 2019, they didn’t submit their site evidence package until September 2019, after fully building out their facility. Health Canada responded just one month later in October, and told them that they were ready to issue a licence but were waiting on the security clearance. It took several more months for this final step, with their cultivation licence being issued in February 2020. 

“I’m actually very appreciative of Health Canada and the fact that they did change their application guidelines. So don’t proceed with your application until you’re actually ready, because it makes it so that those of us who are ready to move things forward in this amount of time can.”


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